Project Hail Mary

Page 34

Interesting theory. Nothing to back it up, though.

The steady light grows brighter, brighter, brighter, and then finally disappears.

“Huh,” I say. I wait a few minutes, but the light does not return.

“Hmm….” I make a mental note of the anomaly. But for now there’s nothing I can do about it. Whatever it was, it’s gone now.

Back to the Petrova line. The first thing I want to do is find out which planet the line leads to. I guess I’ll have to work out how to navigate the ship, but that’s another challenge.

I pan back to look at the Petrova line. Something’s wrong now. Half of it is just…gone.

It’s coming out of Tau Ceti, just like it was a few minutes ago, but then it stops abruptly at a seemingly arbitrary point in space.

“What is going on?”

Did I mess up their migration pattern, maybe? If it’s that easy, wouldn’t we have worked that out when the Hail Mary was wandering around our own solar system?

I zoom in on the cutoff point. It’s just a straight line. Like someone took an X-Acto knife to the whole Petrova line and threw away the scrap.

A giant line of migrating Astrophage doesn’t just disappear. I have a simpler explanation: There’s something on the camera lens. Some blob of debris. Maybe a wad of overexcitable Astrophage. That would be nice. I’d have a sample to look at right away!

Maybe a visible-light view will give me a better idea of what’s going on. I press the toggle button.

And that’s when I see it.

There is an object blocking my view of the Petrova line. It’s right next to my ship. Maybe a few hundred meters away. It’s roughly triangle-shaped and it has gable-like protrusions along its hull.

Yes. I said hull. It’s not an asteroid—the lines are too smooth; too straight. This object was made. Fabricated. Constructed. Shapes like that don’t occur in nature.

It’s a ship.

Another ship.

There’s another ship in this system with me. Those flashes of light—those were its engines. It’s Astrophage-powered. Just like the Hail Mary. But the design, the shape—it’s nothing like any spacecraft I’ve ever seen. The whole thing is made of huge, flat surfaces—the worst possible way to make a pressure vessel. No one in their right mind would make a ship that shape.

No one on Earth would, anyway.

I blink a few times at what I’m seeing. I gulp.

This…this is an alien spacecraft. Made by aliens. Aliens intelligent enough to make a spacecraft.

Humanity isn’t alone in the universe. And I’ve just met our neighbors.

“Holy fucking shit!”

A flood of thoughts hit me all at the same time: We’re not alone. This is an alien. That ship is weird, how does the engineering of that work? Do they live here? Is this their star? Am I starting an interplanetary incident by wandering into alien territory?!

“Breathe,” I tell myself.

Okay, one thing at a time. What if this is another ship from Earth? One I don’t remember? Heck, it took me a few days to remember my name. Maybe Earth sent multiple ships with different designs? Like, for redundancy or to increase the odds that at least one of them works. Maybe that ship is the Praise Allah or the Blessings of Vishnu or something.

I look all around the control room. There are screens and controls for everything, but there’s nothing for a radio. The EVA panel has some radio controls, but that’s obviously just for talking to crewmates when they’re outside.

If they’d sent multiple ships, surely they would have had some radio system so we could talk to each other.

Also, that ship…it’s insane.

I cycle through the navigation console screens until I find the Radar panel. I’d noticed it earlier, but didn’t think much of it. I assume it’s there so I can get near asteroids or other objects and not collide with them.

After a few halting attempts, I manage to turn it on. It immediately spots the other ship and sounds an alarm. The shrill noise hurts my ears.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I say. I frantically scan the panel until I see a button labeled “Mute Proximity Alert.” I press it and the noise stops.

I scan the rest of the screen. There’s a lot of data here, all in a window titled “BLIP-A.” I guess if there were multiple contacts I’d get multiple windows. Whatever. It’s all just raw numbers about the reading. Nothing useful like an isometric Star Trek scan or anything.

“Velocity” is zero. They have matched my velocity exactly. That can’t be a coincidence.

“Range” is 217 meters. I’m assuming that’s the distance to the closest part of the other ship. Or maybe the average. No, it would be the closest part. The point of this system is probably to avoid collisions.

Speaking of collisions—217 meters is a ridiculously small distance compared to the size of a solar system. There’s no way this is a coincidence. That ship positioned itself here on purpose because I’m here.

Another reading, “Angular width,” is 35.44 degrees. Okay, some basic math should handle this.

I bring up the Utility panel on the main screen and launch the calculator app. Something 217 meters away is occupying 35.44 degrees of the view. Presuming the radar can see in all 360 degrees (it would be a pretty cruddy radar if it couldn’t)…I type some numbers into the calculator to do an ARCTAN operation, and:

The ship is 139 meters long. Roughly.

I bring the Astrophage panel up on another screen. The little map there shows that the Hail Mary is just 47 meters long. So yeah. The alien ship is three times the size of mine. There’s just no way Earth sent something that big.

And the shape. What is up with that shape? I turn my attention back to the Petrovascope (which is now just acting as a camera).

The center of the ship is diamond-shaped—a rhombus. Well, I guess it’s an octahedron, really. Looks like it has eight faces, each triangular. That part alone is about the size of my ship.

The diamond is connected by three thick rods (I don’t know what else to call them) to a wide trapezoidal base. That looks like it might be the rear. And in front of the diamond is a narrow stalk (just making up terms at this point) that has four flat panels attached parallel to the main ship axis. Maybe solar panels? The stalk continues forward to a pyramid-shaped nose cone. Nose pyramid, I guess.

Every part of the hull is flat. Even the “rods” have flat faces.

Why would anyone do that? Flat panels are a terrible idea. I don’t know anything about who made this, but presumably they need some kind of atmosphere inside, right? Huge, flat panels are awful at that.

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